Simple message delivers 'strong eyes'

Simple message delivers 'strong eyes'

‘Clean  faces, strong eyes’ is a simple message that is delivering powerful benefits to  children in remote Aboriginal communities. Under a project led by Professor  Hugh Taylor of the Indigenous Eye Health Unit at the Melbourne School of  Population Health, the slogan headlines the Trachoma Story Kits being  distributed to Aboriginal communities, schools and health centres in three  states.
 
The  kits are the basis of a health promotion campaign to reduce, and ultimately  eliminate, trachoma. Trachoma affects 7% of children in very remote regions and  is a major cause of blindness in Indigenous Australians.

The kits’ co-developers were the Katherine West Health  Board and the Centre for Disease Control, Department of Health and Families  Northern Territory.
 
The  simplicity of the slogan belies the complexity of the grassroots consultation  behind the kits’ development. The process ensured that the kits’ messages were clear,  culturally appropriate and understood, and well received, Professor Taylor  says. “It took about a year of sitting down with community groups, school  principals and health care workers.”

This included the valued contribution of community  elders from the Ngumpin Reference Group. Ngumpin represents leaders of the  seven Indigenous communities the team visited around the Northern Territory  town of Katherine.
 
The result is an integrated package of materials that  are easy to read, and meld clinical and cultural knowledge and practices, using  lively images to engage children and their families. The Trachoma Story Kit’s  ‘toolbox’ is tailored to suit clinics, communities and schools using resources  such as flip charts, posters, and stickers for children, lesson plans for  teachers and online tutorials for clinicians.
 
The philanthropic backing of the  projected expedited its roll-out. “If you have to write a grant to ARC or NHMRC  it might take two years to get the funding. But having the philanthropic  funding allowed us to get right on and do it,” he says. “It also gave us the  flexibility to get back and forth to communities multiple times. People had  faith in us and that enabled us to really move ahead.”
 
The Melbourne Football Club is also  supporting the project, sending Indigenous footy heroes Liam Jurrah, Aaron  Davey and Austin Wonaeamirri to promote the message in remote communities.
 
The kits have been a big “hit” with their target  audiences. By the end of 2010 over 300 kits had been distributed across the  Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia.
 
And teachers have added their own imaginative tweaks,  using computer SMART Boards to digitise kit images. This gives students  heightened interactivity; they can colour in the screen images and hear sound  effects linked to the content.

Professor Taylor has found the enthusiastic adoption  of the kits highly rewarding. “It’s having put in the work and then seeing how  people have taken the kits up and used that material – it’s terrific. To see  them being used widely is also very satisfying.

“We’re really  waiting for the real proof of the pudding and that’s for the rates of trachoma  to decrease in these kids. I would hope we’d see things starting to improve by  the end of 2011.”